Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

GRANITE QUARRY — On a sharply-hit ground ball wide of third base, East Rowan coach and former Catawba infielder Brian Hightower got in a defensive crouch from his spot in the third base coaches box.
Hightower barehanded the ball and set himself to fire it back to bewildered West Iredell pitcher Luke Elliott all in one motion. The skipper’s improvisational defense earned applause from the Staton Field crowd but it didn’t translate to his team on Tuesday as West defeated East 4-3 in an North Piedmont Conference clash.
A pair of errors and some missed opportunities at the plate spoiled a three-hit, complete-game performance by Connor Johnson. Elliot also went the distance in the Warriors’ second conference victory. The loss dropped East (6-11, 4-4) into fifth place in the league.
“We can’t hit late,” Hightower said. “We can’t play defense late. We can’t pitch late. We can’t do anything late when baseball is played by men.”
Elliott struck out eight and scattered seven hits while walking none. He finished strong by striking out Ike Freeman to end the game with the tying run at second base.
“It’s probably the best game he’s thrown,” West coach Randy Martin said. “The key was working ahead in the count and keeping the ball in the zone.”
West’s Tyler Mchargue drove in two runs without getting a hit and got in on a three-run sixth inning. Leadoff man Brett Pope started the sixth off with a walk and Elliott also coaxed a walk. Colt Corley reached on a hit-by-pitch to load the bases. On Johnson’s 100th pitch of the night, Mchargue hit a taylor-made grounder that looked destined for a double play, but was misplayed as one out was recorded with WI (4-10, 1-7) tying the score at 2. Wesley Deal singled in the next at-bat to give the Warriors the lead for good and Mchargue scored on a dropped third strike for the fourth run.
“It’s just the simple things,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to make the routine plays and we’re not doing it.”
Corley reached on a walk in the fourth and stole second. An infield error allowed him to go to third and Mchargue drove him in with a groundout to give West the first run.
East got on the board in the bottom of the fourth after an outfield miscue put runners at the corners with no outs. Josh Gobble punched a single through the right side to score Caldwell and Dustin Ritchie. East held a 2-1 lead through five with Johnson having retiring five straight.
Caldwell had three hits to lead the Mustangs and led off the sixth with a single along with Ritchie to put two on with no one out. Elliott kept the damage minimal by getting Gobble to pop out to center before allowing an RBI groundout by Luke Setzer.
Elliott struck out Chase Jarrett to end the frame.